Tuesday, February 26, 2013

History Abounds Around Askew Landing

We were coming off a nice stay in Louisville, Mississippi where we had spent a few days catching up on stories and the business parts that pay the bills.  Ready to get back on the road and explore more history of Mississippi we hit the road and found ourselves in Philadelphia looking for one of Kathy's passions...Old General Stores.

Williams Brothers Store doesn't disappoint if your looking for an historic general store still in operation.  From the bins of beans and seeds outside, to the fresh cut bacon inside, this place has a little bit of everything and is no small operation.  Established in 1907 by brothers Amzie and Brown Williams, it still holds that old charm of yesteryear.  According to an article in the Mississippi Business Journal, it looks pretty much as it did in 1939 when it was featured in National Geographic.

Williams Bros Store, Philadelphia, MS
Still slicing fresh bacon since 1907.
The article from last August points out that Williams Brothers employs up to 60 at the store, and sells everything from red rind Wisconsin hoop cheese to denim overalls. They even have some designer clothes.  Today the store is still in the family and going strong.  It has been a long time since I've seen a butcher actually slicing bacon for a customer. Need to get out of big chain rut and visit places like this more often.

After Philadelphia, we hooked west to get back on the Natchez Trace. The River Bend Picnic area (Mile Post 122.6) provided a nice stop to learn about the Pearl River.  Named the "River of Pearls" by French explorer Pierre Le Moync, Sieur d'lberville, the Trace avoided the marshy lowlands of this area by following the ridge between the Pearl and Big Black Rivers for 150 miles. The last 75 miles of the rivers course have served as a boundary between Mississippi and Louisiana since 1812.

Cypress Swamp on the Natchez Trace
Just a half mile away (mile post 122), you can really see why the Trace avoided lowlands.  Here, you can take a 20 minute walk through a water tupelo/bald cypress swamp, which we found quite "magical".  Cypress Swamp was created when the Pearl River changed its course and left an abandoned river channel. Water tupelo and bald cypress trees can live in deep water for long periods of time. In fact, some of the living Cypress trees may have seen the passage of Hernando de Soto nearly 500 years ago. During periodic low water, seedlings of these trees took root and the aquatic forest is the result.   As the channel fills with silt and vegetation, other trees will gradually take over, but not for several hundred years.

Kathy and I loved this stop for it's natural beauty, and recommend you take time for a leisurely stroll yourself. Although we did not see any, alligators are sometimes seen here. They look like floating logs with nostrils and mostly hide or sleep.  Of course, that meant every log I looked at in the water was suspect, and I probably wasted quite a bit of digital space on the camera. I'm writing this in the blog so when I look at the photos years from now I won't wonder about my "floating wood obsession". A sign along the trail warns not to throw food to them or they may lose their fear of humans and become aggressive.

Boyd Mound on the Trace
After Cypress Swamp we made another "mound" stop at Boyd Site (mile post 106.9). These Indian burial mounds were built up to 1200 years ago. Archaeologists indicate there was a house here sometime around 500 A.D., and that pottery found in the mounds date back before 700 A.D.  While we are enjoying the burial mounds along the trace, we are finding that, after a few, a mound is a mound. The history is fascinating though. 

(Read more about the Mound Builders of Mississippi)

As we left Boyd Site we noticed traffic getting heavier as we were about to cross the northwest part of Jackson. We somehow missed Brashears Stand and another piece of Old Trace (mile post 104.5). The stand was advertised in 1806 as a "house of entertainment in the wilderness", and part of the original Trace is nearby. Osburn Stand (mile post 93.1), was opened by Noble Osburn in 1811 but by the early 1820's, when Jackson was founded, traffic shifted away from this part of the Trace. As with many of these stops, only a marker remains.

Cowles Mead Cemetery
A better stop for us, being the cemetery nuts we are, was Cowles Mead Cemetery (mile post 88.1).  Mead came from the east for the opportunity the Mississippi Territory had to offer.  In addition to owning a tavern on the Old Trace near Natchez, he also held several political offices, including acting governor in 1806.  During this time he ordered the arrest of Aaron Burr for treason but the former Vice President was acquitted  Mead followed the growth of the state and moved to the Jackson area, where here he built his "Greenwood" estate.  Little remains today as the estate burned after his death during the Civil War. But the family cemetery remains.

Askew Landing near Edwards, MS

Welcome to Askew's Landing
We exited the Trace at Raymond to find our next long term stay. Kathy and I found a gem of an RV Campground hidden off back in the woods near Edwards, Ms.  Askew Landing is in a perfect location for us, just 20 miles outside of Vicksburg and within driving distance for more Natchez Trace and plenty of other great Mississippi  history. And there's great history right here at the campground, which is part of Bridgeport Plantation.  

Established by Duklet Askew in 1859, he and his brother traveled from North Carolina to Mississippi searching for land to build a cotton plantation. Duklet bought  2,000 acres northeast of Edwards along the old Bridgeport Road and named it Bridgeport Plantation. He began by clearing more than 500 acres, farmed cotton, and built and operated a ferry across the Big Black River. Some time later, he built a cotton gin and general store close to the ferry on Bridgeport Road.

Askew's Landing is an historic site
Life on the plantation was interrupted in 1863 by the Civil War as Confederates, fleeing after the Battle of Champion Hill back towards Vicksburg, were involved in skirmishes. The Confederates used Askew's Ferry to cross the Big Black River, then destroyed the ferry so that the pursuing Union troops couldn't use it. Nearly a month later, during the Operations in Northeast Mississippi, another skirmish took place at the plantation when a a Confederate cavalry force unsuccessfully challenged the Union picket guarding General Grant's eastern line.

See our full story on Bridgeport Plantation and Askew's Landing HERE

Dan and Edna Askew
Askew Landing RV Campground is truly one of Mississippi's best kept secrets.  Listed on the National Register of Historic places with the camp ground sitting in the center of 300 wooded acres, it is easy to access off I-20, but, far enough away to shield its visitors from the sounds of nearby traffic or passers-through. With plenty of history to explore within driving distance, and due to 'beyond our control' circumstances, this wound up being our longest stay at any campground (almost 2 weeks).  Things happen when you are RV'ing, and we were lucky it happened here. (See RV Campground reviews at the end of this article)

Day Trips from Askew
Battle of Champion Hill
Over the course of our stay at Askew Landing we took several day trips to nearby history. One of our first excursions from the campground was the nearby Battle of Champion Hill, southeast of Edwards.  This is not your typical "let's go see the battleground".  There are markers scattered about that you have to know of ahead of time, or a private tour of the Champion Hill Battlefield can also be arranged with a descendant and owner of the property. ($25/person, minimum of two as of February, 2013). By all accounts, we've heard this is an excellent tour given by the great-great grandson of the original owner of the property.

Champion Hill Battle Marker on Billy
Fields road SW of Edwards
Being the explorers we are though, and having multiple destinations in a day, we opted to find what we could "off private property", and found quite a bit.   The Battle of Champion Hill, May 16, 1863, is described  as a critical battle that could have swung the war to the Confederates.  In fact, if Confederate forces had been victorious, Vicksburg would never have fallen, as General Ulysses Grant's Vicksburg campaign could have been stopped. Instead it was a disastrous day for Confederate Lieutenant General John Pemberton that put his troops on the run, and allowed Grant's momentum to continue.  

Of the Champion Hill area, the battlefield and some of the original roads are very well preserved. However, there are no original buildings. Thousands of acres of the core battlefield are privately owned and another 800 acres of the outlying area is owned by the State of Mississippi. An additional 402 acres have been protected by the Civil War Preservation Trust through conservation easements and land purchases. There are hopes that parts of these properties may become an extension of the Vicksburg National Military Park.

Read our full story on the Battle of Champion Hill, including a link to a points of interest map of the battleground HERE

1859 Courthouse in Raymond, MS
A few miles down Highway 467 from Edwards sits another battle site in and around the historic town of Raymond.  Just off the Natchez Trace, Raymond was established in the late 1820's and at the time was the Hinds County Seat, before it moved to Jackson.  In addition to Civil War history surrounding the Battle of Raymond on May 12, 1863, you'll find find plenty of small town charm, along with historic buildings, such as the 1859 courthouse built in southern Greek revival architecture. 

Confederate Cemetery at Raymond
At Carter Cemetery just south of town we found a Confederate Cemetery, one of several we are running into.  Kathy and I had never really dived into how the Union and Confederate's handled their fallen until now.  Really, as American's, I guess some of us assume that National Cemeteries would be for Confederates and Union alike. That's not the case, as you have to keep in mind that we were not 'one' nation at the time.  In fact, it wasn't until 1906 that the Federal Government became involved in permanently marking Confederate graves. 

There's some very interesting history in how our National Cemeteries came to be and how the Confederate fallen were handled.  Read "The Evolution of National Cemeteries", courtesy  Kelly Merrifield for the National Park Service, HERE

Gibbes General Store, Learned, MS
After Raymond, Kathy was on a mission to find an historic Church.   But, as we have many times before, our mission becomes distracted by bright shiny objects, like another old Country Store that we literally stumbled upon in the very small town of Learned, MS.  Gibbes General Store was established around 1899.  Still in the family, this is another great stop for history and nostalgia buffs like us. 

Inside Gibbes General store is like
stepping back in time. 
We had a very pleasant visit with Chip Gibbes, the current generational owner, who told us about his families history in Learned dating  back to 1836.  As the only business left in the town, Gibbes Country Store is a combination 'museum' of sorts, as well as an active store and, some nights, even a steak house.   We tried, but couldn't make it for what we understand to be one heck of a dinner service, but we did enjoy the visit and the old historic building.  And to top it off, we found out Chip is a second cousin of Dan Askew at Askew's Landing.  Yep, 'small world' applies in Mississippi too. 

This tree at the Coker
House has a lot going on.
Our day trip concluded with a visit to the Coker House, part of the Battle of Champion Hill off highway 467.  The original is gone,  just within the past few years, but there is a reconstructed home at the site now with many interpretive signs explaining the history of the home, it's occupants and its role in the battle.  On the southern edges of the battle, it sustained fire from both sides, as well as serving as a field hospital after the battle.  Overwhelmed a bit from all our Civil War history, I couldn't take my eyes off a peculiar tree in front of the house.  Not a lot of words to describe its character, so I'll just let your imagination go with the photo.  

Valentines Day Trip with more Trace, Fried Chicken, Historic University, Ghost Town & Ruins

Water rises at Askew's Landing
Did I mention how much it has rained since we've been in Mississippi? And we're not talking your passing thunderstorm either.  Kathy and I had our first experience of being stuck in the trailer for 3 days at Askew's Landing, watching the pond behind our trailer devour the road into the campground and inch closer and closer to our electric box.  At least we know this amount of rain is abnormal for February, and the alternative back home in Warsaw, MO is lots of snow. 

Rocky Springs Church, built 1837
So it was with great relief that Valentines Day turned out to be one of those 'blue sky' sunny days, perfect for a day trip on the Natchez Trace and more.  We first headed south of Edwards to Old Port Gibson road, then over to the town that is no more, Rocky Springs, just off the Natchez Trace.  Here you'll find the Rocky Springs Church, built in 1837.  Still active, it was built by Methodists in the town, which up til then, had been a station for a circuit riding preacher who stopped here only once or twice a month.  

A safe remains as evidence of Rocky  Springs
Early travelers along the Trace called the area "the Rocky Spring", and as the rural community developed in the late 1790's, several businesses were established, including a post office in 1821.  The town boasted a population of over 2,600 in 1860, 2,000 of which were slaves, but that would be its peak.  In addition to the ravages of the Civil War, a yellow fever outbreak in 1878 would devastate the population, and then in the 1900's the boll weevil struck their cotton crops. Rocky Springs would rapidly decline after that, and it's last store closed during the 1930's. Today a short interpretive walking trail will take you to the church, its cemetery and some interesting artifacts, like an old  safe which could have belonged to a store, sitting on the side of the hill.  

At Rocky Springs we hooked back up with the Natchez Trace and, after missing Owen's Creek Waterfall at mile post 52.4, our first stop was Grindstone Ford (mile post 45.7). This ford marked the beginning of the wilderness of the Choctaw nation and the end of the old Natchez District. Fort Deposit nearby was a supply depot for troops clearing the Trace in the early part of the 1800's, and troops were assembled here during the Burr conspiracy allegedly to separate the Western States from the Union.  

Old Cemetery at Grindstone Ford
In addition, Riverboatmen on foot and horseback crossed here after floating cargo down from Ohio River to New Orleans and Mississippi. Soldiers came here while protecting the Natchez District from British and Spanish threats. And Daniel Burnett's stand stood here. Burnett was a principal negotiator with the Choctaws, and framer of the Mississippi state constitution. For many, this was the line between civilization and the wilderness.  If you want to see the original road, this is another great stop, with a section of sunken Trace along with a small graveyard dating back to it's active years.  

Also nearby, Magnum Mound, another example of the Mississippi Mound Builders, tells us much about the people of the late prehistoric period. The Plaquemine culture included the ancestors of the modern tribes of Mississippi and Louisiana. It was a society with elaborate agriculturally oriented religious ceremonies. From the burials on this mound, it is known there is a high infant mortality, and upon the death of a chief, a brutal ritual was enacted in which his retainers were slain and buried with him.

We exited off the Trace near Loreman for the "Windsor Ruins Loop Route", a 32 mile long loop through Alcorn and Port Gibson, Mississippi providing a number of interesting stops. The loop is comprised of 20 miles along Mississippi Highway 552/Rodney Road, 7 miles along the Natchez Trace Parkway from milepost 30 to 37 and five miles through the town of Port Gibson and back to the Trace.  

Old Country Store, Loreman MS
We didn't follow the exact route promoted, and first on our agenda was lunch at the Old Country Store in Loreman, on Highway 61.  The building started as a General Mercantile store in 1890. Built by brothers M. Heiman, L. Joseph and R. Lehman Cohn who were already successful merchants in Clifton, Ms since 1875, the store in Lorman continued in the Cohn family until 1956. It was renamed the Old Country Store in 1964 by then owner Enest T. Breithaupt, who had been a long time employee of the Cohns'. Breithaupt and his wife Ruth ran the store for 30 years until Ernest's death in 1995. 

Mr. "D" serenades guests
at the Old Country Store
In 1996 the contents of the building were auctioned off and the building refurbished, opening back up in 1997 as a restaurant. Today, along with walls of memorabilia, travelers along Highway 61 stop in for Arthur Davis' famous 'Heavenly Fried Chicken". Mr."D", as he is known, entertains guests regularly with his song about Grand Mama's cornbread, and cooks up a mighty fine all-you-can-eat lunch buffet.  We found Mr. "D" and the employees service to be excellent, entertaining and down right fun. After serenading us, Arthur even gave me a rose to give to Kathy for Valentines Day.  As for the food, this is prime southern cooking at its finest.  Yes, the chicken is great, but I personally loved the cornbread even more.  

After wiping our chins and taking in the memorabilia at the store, we headed back onto highway 552 and entered the grounds of historic Alcorn University.  It should be noted that you must pass through a security gate here, but the guard on duty was extremely nice and accommodating as we wanted to get some pictures of some of the historic buildings. 

Oakland Chapel built 1838
Alcorn is the oldest public historically black land-grant institution in the United States, and the second oldest state supported institution of higher learning in Mississippi.  It began in 1830 as Oakland College, founded by Dr. Jeremiah Chamberlain.  An ardent Unionist and Whig, Chamberlain was assassinated on campus in 1851 by a secessionist, and after a few years of decline, Oakland College closed its doors at the beginning of the Civil War.  The property was sold to the state afterwards, and in 1871 Alcorn University was established to provide higher education for freedmen.  Named for James L. Alcorn, the state's governor at the time, at first it was exclusively for black males. However in 1895 women were admitted, and since that time it has continued to grow and educates over 4,000 students from all over the world. The oldest building on the campus is the Oakland Chapel built in 1838.  

Old Service Station? - Rodney MS.
Kathy and I love Ghost Towns, and our next stop was way off the beaten path.  4.8 miles southwest of Alcorn you'll find Rodney.  Now, we took "College Road", a dirt road that exits out the back of Alcorn University to Rodney Road, but most would want to get there via Rodney Road from Loreman.  With very few residents today, Rodney was once so important that it almost became the capitol of Mississippi.  In the 1860's it boasted a population of 4,000 and was the busiest port on the Mississippi River between New Orleans and St. Louis.  However the river changed course, forever altering the fate of the town, and its population decreased to its ghost town status of today. 

Rodney Church built 1828
Careful not to intrude on anyone's private property, we took in the old buildings and abandoned stores.  There are a couple of old churches in town, including the Presbyterian Church. Chartered in 1828 as the Church of Petit Gulf, it was shelled by the Gunboat "Rattler" when Federal sailors were captured by Confederate cavalry while attending Sunday services on September 13, 1863. Above the top middle window you may be able to make out the cannon ball stuck in the wall.

See our full story on Rodney Mississippi (COMING SOON) HERE

From Rodney we headed back to Highway 552 to see the Windsor Ruins. Smith Coffee Daniell II, successful cotton planter, completed construction of Windsor in 1861. The basic style was Greek Revival, but with added details borrowed from Italianate and Gothic architecture. The Windsor house contained 23 rooms, with an above ground basement, two residential floors and an attic. A cupola, where you could see the Mississippi River, was centered on the top of the roof. 

Windsor Ruins
Daniell, who owned over 20,000 acres of plantation land in Mississippi and Louisiana, died in April 1861 only weeks after completing the mansion. His wife and children continued to live here, but were left to suffer the loss of a large part of the family's holdings during the Civil War. Leading up to the Battle of Port Gibson in the spring of 1863, Confederate troops used the roof observatory as a lookout as General Ulysses S. Grant's army crossed the Mississippi River. After the battle the mansion was used as a Union hospital and observation post, thus sparing it from being burned by Union troops. Unfortunately, on February 17,1890, a house guest left a lighted cigar on the upper balcony and Windsor burned to the ground. Everything was destroyed except 23 of the columns, the balustrades, and the iron stairs. The Daniell family donated the ruins to the state in 1974.

There's more to see on this Windsor loop before reaching Port Gibson. See our Natchez Mile points of interest Mile posts 31 to 60 HERE

Claiborne County Courthouse
After Windsor we pulled into the historic city of Port Gibson.  This bustling town near the Gran Gulf Nuclear Power Station, is Mississippi's third oldest settlement, being occupied in 1729. Most of Port Gibson's historic buildings survived the Civil War because General Ulysses S. Grant believed the city "too beautiful to burn". Historic Church Street through the middle of town is lined with antebellum homes and church buildings, along with the beautiful Claiborne County Courthouse.  The Battle of Port Gibson in early May of 1863 was a turning point in the Confederates ability to defend against amphibious attack. 

Plan on a couple of days in Vicksburg
Biedenharn Candy Co building, Vicksburg
Although we had driven through Vicksburg on the way back from our Valentines day trip, we didn't stop as we wanted to dedicate a full day to the city.  In fact, to really do Vicksburg, you will need a couple of days, as there is a lot to explore in addition to Vicksburg National Military Park.  Like the Biedenharn Coca-Cola Museum. While Dr. Pemberton may have created his magic elixir in Atlanta back in 1866, it was Jospeh A. Biedenharn who first brought it to the people outside of Soda Shops. 

Memorabilia at the Biedenharn
Coca-Cola Museum
In 1894,  Biedenharn was so impressed by the growing demand for Coca-Cola at his soda fountain in Vicksburg that he installed bottle machinery in the rear of his store and began to sell cases of Coke to farms and lumber camps up and down the Mississippi River. He was the first bottler of Coca-Cola. The museum is in the very same Soda Shop in historic downtown. And for the record, all traces of Cocaine were removed from Coca-Cola in 1903, but of course they kept the coca flavoring.  Today, the  Biedenharn Coca-Cola Museum is owned and operated by the Vicksburg Foundation for Historic Preservation.

Kitchen on the Motor Vessel MS IV
In addition to the many other historic businesses and buildings, nearby you'll find the Motor Vessel Mississippi IV, a diesel-powered all steel ship that the Corps of Engineers used as a towboat and inspection vessel for the Mississippi River Commission.  It served from 1960 to it's decommission in 1993, and today provides visitors the opportunity to come aboard, learn and explore. 

Model of Vicksburg at the Museum
The vessel is located at the Lower Mississippi River Museum and Riverfront Interpretive Site. This is a must stop on your outing to Vicksburg, regardless whether you tour the ship.   The Museum covers the history of Vicksburg, its role on the mighty river, and much more.  Here we learned how the flood of 1927 resulted in hundreds of thousands displaced from their homes and unable to return for nearly 8 months after the rains had begun. It was the final motivation for many African American families to leave Vicksburg and relocate to other cities like St. Louis, Chicago and Detroit.  For landowners, they viewed this migration as a loss of labor, and used "forced work camps" to make sure their labor remained in tact. 

Illinois Memorial at Vicksburg
Markers for the Battle of Vicksburg can be found scattered in several locations around the city, but your primary Civil War stop is Vicksburg National Military Park.   A drive through this beautiful landscape will wind you through monument after monument, dedicated to the men who fought in this critical turning point in the War.  The Siege of Vicksburg, part of Union General and later President Ulysses Grant's Vicksburg Campaign, started in May of 1863 and would last until the Confederates surrender on July 4. The fall of Vicksburg that Summer, along with the defeat of Confederate General Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg, were critical turning points for the Union that would lead to overall victory over the Confederate States of America.

Missouri Memorial at Vicksburg
Being from Missouri, one monument in particular held special meaning for us.   The Missouri Monument at the Battlefield at Vicksburg, Mississippi  reminds us that the Civil War was not a struggle to fend off a foreign nation, but a war of Americans fighting Americans.

Here, Confederates from Missouri fought Union soldiers from Missouri. At Vicksburg - and across every Civil War battlefield - men who had once been friends faced off as enemies. Neighbors and even family members found themselves on opposite sides, fighting for different ideals. 

A rose left at the MO Monument
The inscription at the bottom of the monument reads "To commemorate and perpetuate the heroic services, the unselfish devotion to duty, and the exalted patriotism of the Missouri soldiers, Union and Confederate, who were engaged in the campaign, siege and defense of Vicksburg." 

The Military Park and all other notable Civil War battle sites around the city will take time for you to explore, so plan on a dedicated day or two and enjoy history at Vicksburg, MS.  

See our full article on the Battles between Jackson and Vicksburg HERE. 

Next travel blog, we explore a little more around Askew Landing and Edwards area along historic Highway 80, then finally made our way south to the beautiful city of Natchez. 

In the meantime, we'll be adding more to the Winter 2013 Photo Gallery HERE and via this slide show. 

Related RV Park Reviews

Legends at Askew's Landing
Askew's Landing Campground - Extreme southern hospitality. Pet and family friendly. Can't say enough good things about Dan and Edna Askew and their staff.  Making sure the roads were good and customers taken care of.  Historic location (marker on site). Great WIFI, laundry facility and small store in office make it very convenient.  Beautiful location, hidden off the beaten track of I-20 and Edwards.  On a large pond/small lake with plenty of wildlife.  Between Jackson and Vicksburg with lots of history around the area to explore.  Beyond the small on-site store, shopping not to far down I-20 in either direction, and a couple of smaller stores in Edwards.  We gave this campground 9 out of 10 and that's just because we haven't found "paradise" yet.  Not a "Passport" site" but that didn't matter with the weekly rates. We highly recommend this RV campground. 

(Note: We use RV Park Reviews. Traveling in a 22' Travel Trailer. All electric 30 amp or more unless otherwise noted).

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

To French Camp on the Trace

We headed South out of Corinth, Ms ready for more journey on the Natchez Trace, picking it back up off highway 30 near Bay Springs Lake. This would be our first day of experiencing the Indian Mounds Kathy has already written about.  Our first stop was Pharr Mounds.  It's the largest and most important archaeological site in northern Mississippi, with eight burial mounds built during the Middle Woodland period, between 1 and 200 A.D. Ranging in height from two to 18 feet, the mounds are distributed over an area of about 90 acres. They comprise one of the largest Middle Woodland ceremonial sites in the southeastern United States.
Pharr Mounds Site

Four of the mounds were excavated in 1966 by the National Park Service. The mounds covered various internal features, including fire pits and low, clay platforms. Cremated and unburned human remains were found in and near these mounds, as were various ceremonial artifacts, including copper spools and other copper objects, decorated ceramic vessels, lumps of galena (shiny lead ore), a sheet of mica, and a greenstone platform pipe.

The copper, galena, mica and greenstone did not originate in Mississippi; they were imported long distances through extensive trade networks. Such ritually significant non-local items typify the Middle Woodland period. The site is located on the Natchez Trace Parkway (milepost 286.7), about 23 miles northeast of Tupelo.

13 Unknown Soldiers

After Pharr Mounds we stopped at another 'sunken trace' site, where the original Natchez Trace was traveled hundreds of years ago.  This stop (milepost 269.4) was different though, as the Civil War had left its mark.  Although the Old Trace had been abandoned by the start of the war, soldiers marched, camped and fought along portions of the historic road.  At this location, you can see the grave sites of 13 unknown soldiers.  The marker near the graves indicates no one really knows who they are or how they died.  But tradition holds that they belong to Confederate Soldiers who camped along this stretch, and either died from their wounds, or the lingering hunger, poverty an sickness in the army camps.
Confederate Grave

Today, their simple grave markers face backwards toward the Trace so that travelers might read and remember.  And many apparently still do.  We found coins laid on the top of the grave stones, as well as flowers and flags by each.  It was another reminder of the horrible sacrifice thousands of American's paid as our country was ripped apart by the Civil War.
Exhibit inside the Parkway Headquarters

Before we exited off the Trace at Tupelo, we visited the Parkway Visitors Center (mile post 266).  This is the Natchez Trace Parkway Headquarters and well worth the stop.  Exhibits about the history of the area, the Trace and it's origins, as well as how it became a National Parkway are all here, as well as a friendly staff ready to answer questions on most anything related to the Trace.  We even got some tips on Natchez, Ms for our upcoming visit to the historic city.  

It was a somewhat short travel day for us, and we wanted to find a place to land for a few days to catch up with our on-line stuff, so we went into Tupelo and found a beautiful RV Park just on the outskirts of town. Unfortunately beauty wasn't what we were after, we just wanted some solid Wifi time.  Despite the RV Parks best attempt at providing Wifi throughout the complex, we had problems connecting, so only spent one night. 

(Note: Related RV Park Reviews at the end of this article) 
The King - Elvis Presley

Although we didn't do Tupelo, there is lots to see and do here. While Tupelo may be the most famous for being the birth place of Elvis Presley, it's also home to the largest antique car collection east of the Mississippi River at the Tupelo Automobile Museum. In addition, according to the Mississippi Official Tour Guide, Tupelo Buffalo Park has one of the largest herds in the east, as well as other exotics, and one of the best petting zoos in the area. 

Being right next to the Natchez Trace Parkway,  as well as having plenty of family entertainment, Tupelo is a great stop for any traveler.  If we had a different agenda on this trip we probably would have visited the Elvis Presley Birthplace and Museum.  It includes the home that Elvis' father built, an Elvis statue with his first guitar, memorial chapel, a park, story wall,  gift shop and more on newly expanded grounds.  
Tupelo Automobile Museum
photographer unknown

Other attractions include the GumTree Museum of Art, a cultural and artistic guide to Tupelo; Lyric Theatre, a turn of the century production theater home now to Tupelo's Community Theatre and promoted as one of the finest live stage facilities in the state; HealthWorks!, a fun new children's health education center with exhibits designed to inspire a lifetime of healthier habits;  and the Mississippi Hills Exhibit Center, which educates visitors about the Mississippi Hills National Heritage area, covering a 30 acre region whose culture is heavily influenced by the intersection of the Appalachian region and the Mississippi Delta. 

Of course the Civil War also touched this area, with two of the final battles of Mississippi, Brice's Crossroads and the Battle of Harrisburg nearby.  The Tupelo National Battlefield, a one acre monument on Main Street in Tupelo, is the site of the July 14, 1864 battle of Tupelo, when Union Troops, including Colored regiments, marched into Tupelo and met an unorganized Confederate force. Involving over 20,000 men, neither side would be able to claim victory, however the Union achieved its goal of keeping the Confederates away from Union Railroads in Tennessee.  The battle would rage until the afternoon of July 15.  Notably, this would be the last time Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forest's famed cavalry troops would fight the Union, and Forest himself was injured and taken out of action for up to 3 weeks. 

Back on the Trace at Tupelo to French Camp

We were back on the Trace sooner than expected on a hunt for an RV Park with adequate Wifi, so we headed south toward French Camp, where we planned to divert off the Trace to Louisville, Ms.  We missed the Chickasaw Village site (mile post 261.8), which has some exhibits portraying the daily life and history at a village that once stood there.  It features a self guiding trail as well. 

However we did stop at the site of the Chickasaw Council House (mile post 251.1).  Only a marker along the Trace near by it's original location, the Council House was in the village of Pontatock, which in the 1820's became the Capitol of the Chickasaw Nation.  Chiefs and other leaders met here to sign treaties or establish tribal laws and policies.  Each summer two or thee thousand Indians camped nearby to receive the annual payments for lands they had sold over the the Federal Government.  The Treaty of 1832 would see the last land surrendered though, and the Chickasaw Council House disappeared. The Chickasaw tribe moved west to Oklahoma where they remain today. 
Marker for the former site of
Tockshish on the Natchez Trace

Just a couple miles south (mile post 249.6) is the marker for Tockshish.  Named for a Chickasaw word meaning "tree root", Tockshish was a mixed community of Native Americans and white men. British agent to the Choctaws John McIntosh first settled here in 1770.  In 1801, McIntosh's place was made the second post office on the Trace as a midway point between Nashville and Natchez, and a relay station where post riders exchanged weary horses for fresh ones. 

Monroe Mission Station has it's own marker (mile post 245.6), remembering where the Chickasaws first received Christianity and education in 1822.  By 1827 81 students were attending the school, with boys learning farming and carpentry, and girls learning spinning and weaving in addition to classroom work.  Monroe and three other stations were training centers for many who became leaders of the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma
Hernando de Soto

Also near here, another two miles south (mile post 243.3) Spanish Explorer Hernando de Soto crossed the animal paths that later became the Natchez Trace. In 1539 he set out on a journey that would take him across the Southeastern US.  In 1540 near this marker he spent the winter among the nearby Chickasaw Natives. After a dispute with the Indians, de Soto and his army moved westward. 

You can read more about Hernando de Soto HERE

Another couple of miles south (mile post 241.4) is a marker for the Chickasaw Agency.  These were all important United States agents who lived here from 1802 to 1825 along the trace. The fact that Americans could peacefully travel the road through Indian lands was due in large measure to the agents.  Their efforts to preserve harmony included collecting debts, recovering stolen horses, removing trespassers and capturing fugitives. Although Winters were lonely for the agents, during the summer months "Kaintucks" on their long journey from Natchez to their Ohio Valley homes would travel the Trace by the thousands.  Many of them expected the agency to supply medicine or food and a good nights rest. 
Witch Dance

While these markers were good to stop at and read, we were ready for a more substantial stop and got one down the road at "Witch Dance" (mile post 233.2).  This site has restrooms, horse trail access, bike only primitive campground, and picnicking, but our focus was the haunted aspect.  Already steeped in Native American lore, witches later began to gather at the place for nighttime ceremonies. Celebrating and improving their "abilities", they would feast and dance throughout the night. Legend has it that where their feet touched the ground during their dances, the grass would wither and die, never to grow again. 
Bare spots at Witch Dance

The Chickasaw and the Choctaw Indians in the area immediately began to avoid the scorched patches of ground. During the War of 1812 and the Creek War that followed, Andrew Jackson often traveled up and down the Natchez Trace. Though there is no indication that he feared the spots, they were interesting enough that he recorded them in his journal. 

Read about the Native American Lore and Legends of Witch Dance on the Trace HERE

Another mile south (mile post 232.4) is Bynum Mounds.  Built between 2,100 and 1,800 years ago, the six burial mounds range in height from five to 14 feet. Five of them were excavated by the National Park Service in the late 1940s. The two largest mounds have been restored for public viewing. Mound A, the southernmost of the two restored mounds, contained the remains of a woman placed between two parallel burned oak logs at the mound's base. Three additional sets of human remains were also found, consisting of the cremated traces of two adults and a child. 

Bynum Mounds
Mound B, the largest at the site, covered a log-lined crematory pit. An L-shaped row of 29 polished greenstone celts (axe heads) and the cremated and unburned remains of several individuals were located on the ash-covered floor. Other artifacts found in ceremonial context included copper spools, 19 chert projectile points imported from Illinois, and a piece of galena (shiny lead ore). Greenstone, copper, and galena, like the distinctive projectile points, do not originate in Mississippi. These high-prestige goods, like those found at the Pharr Mounds, were imported through long-distance trade networks.

You can read more about the Mississippi Mound Builders HERE.

Line Creek (mile post 213.3) is the former boundary between the Chickasaw and Choctaw Tribes. Unlike many Indian nations who seldom recognized boundaries to their lands, the Chickasaw and Choctaw came to accept this stream as the dividing line between them, and it remained so until both tribes were moved to Oklahoma in the 1830's. Near this marker, Noah Wall and his Choctaw wife had a stand where food and shelter were provided to travelers along the Trace.  
Pigeon Roost (mile post 203.5) is where Nathaniel and David Folsom ran Folsom's stand and trading post, and where millions of passenger pigeons, now extinct, roosted here. 

Driving through the Tornado ravaged
area of the Natchez Trace.
Shortly after that stop we came out of the beauty of the Trace to what appeared to be a nightmarish landscape.  On April 27, 2011, three sections of the Trace Parkway were impacted by a series of tornado's. While two of the sections were less than a mile in length, between mileposts 204 and 212 is an eight mile stretch of destruction.  Pictures can only elude to the devastation, and we were left in awe of Mother Natures force while driving through here. 
The April 2011 Tornado's left miles
of destruction on the Trace.

According to the National Park Service, while they did remove all the downed and damaged trees from the immediate roadway, they left the rest to provide food and habitat for the many animals that call the Parkway home.  "By allowing nature to take its course, visitors can see firsthand the ecosystem's resiliency in response to dynamic forces" the NPS website states. "As you visit the Parkway in the years to come, you will notice subtle changes that demonstrate the natural processes that are constantly going on around us. As time passes, the downed trees will decompose, providing nutrients to the soil for the next generation of growth. In time, nature will reclaim this area."  Until then however, this area is a big reminder of how powerful weather can be, and how much you should pay attention to your surroundings while visiting any National Park.   While there were thousands of people on the Natchez Trace that day in 2011, only one person perished in the storms that hit here.  Unfortunately that was not the case across the state of Mississippi and other parts of the Southeast. 
Original part of the Trace

After we emerged from the tornado stricken area we ran into more "Old Trace" (original part of the historic road at mile post 198.6) and Jeff Busby picnick area and campground (mile post 193.1).  Named for Mississippi U.S. Congressman Jeff Busby, who in 1934 introduced a bill authorizing a survey of the Old Natchez Trace, which just four years later became a unit of the National Park System, this is a great stop for camping, including an RV Campground.  

View from the top of Little Mountain
While we didn't stay, we did take the time to drive up to Little Mountain, one of the highest points in Mississippi (we chuckled when we found out we were at 603 feet above sea level. Especially since places we've lived in Kansas are higher than that).  On a clear day you can see about 20 miles from the top.  It should also be noted here that at one time, this stop on the Trace was home to the only spot right on the Parkway where you could purchase gas, however the station is now closed permanently. 

French Camp Historical Area
After our jaunt to the top of Little Mountain, we headed on down for our final exploration of the day.  French Camp (mile post 180.7) was established around 1810.  Originally known as "Frenchman's Camp" it was founded as a stand  by Louis LeFleur.  Here you can pay a visit to the historic village that includes the Council House Cafe and Carriage House.  A self guided tour around the boardwalk winds through the historic buildings and out cabins.  Local volunteers also run the Alumni Museum nearby.  LeFleur's stand became a school in 1822 and is still in operation today as a Christian boarding school and home for youth facing difficult times. 

You can see our updated story, with mile by mile points of interest along the Natchez Trace Parkway HERE

We didn't get back on the Trace at French Camp, instead heading off toward Louisville, Ms where we would park the Trailer and catch up on things.  Found a very nice RV Camp Ground and more just outside of Louisville at Lake Tiak-O'Khata Resort and planted ourselves for a few days.  One thing about traveling like this in an RV and running your business from it at the same time...our pace is our own.  

Next up, we head to the historic area around Jackson and Vicksburg.  In the meantime, enjoy the slide show from the Natchez Trace, or visit the Winter History Tour Gallery "Natchez Trace" HERE

primary information sources - National Park Service


RV Park Reviews 

Campground at Barnes Crossing - Tupelo, Ms - Just as you enter Tupelo after exiting the Natchez Trace. Reserved and paid two nights due to advertising that Wi-Fi was available at all campsites. Unfortunately Wi-Fi did not work hardly at all while we were there. Pull through site was uneven and a little difficult to get into due to concrete retaining wall on one side. Nicely landscaped, beautiful campground with tiered levels, very close to shopping and services. Full Hookups and Cable TV.  Left after one night and received refund for second night without a problem due to our immediate needs for Wifi. Not a Passport campground, rate $32 a night.  We gave this one 6 out of 10.

Lake Tiak-O'Khata Resort - Louisville, MS - This site was more than adequate for our purposes, which was to catch up on work.  For leisure travelers it's even better. Lake front spots  available, full hookups, level slabs, cable, and Wifi.  Wifi could be iffy in some spots, but talk to management and they will guide you accordingly.  Rates were good ($20 per night).  Cable was good, however HD channels iffy.  Had to dig through leaves a bit to find the water and sewer hookups, but tis the season.  Roads were a little rough coming in and could use some maintenance.  Pet friendly.  Would stay here again. We gave it an 8 out of 10 rating, although some reviewers noted problems negotiating into their spots (probably longer trailers). 

(Note: We use RV Park Reviews. Traveling in a 22' Travel Trailer. All electric 30 amp or more unless otherwise noted).